3

This is inspired by this question:
How do you raise an intelligent and happy daughter in a sexist world?

The reasoning behind that being a "bad" question is that its content is primarily composed of irrelevant information (that happens to be controversial), and the boiled-down question is "How do I raise a girl?", which is incredibly broad and subjective.

But there are others with a high view count (acquired over longer time), that could also be considered off-topic. Another is:
Can "The Giving Tree" be explained in a way that isn't an unhealthy lesson?

I would say it's a bad question, because it's barely related to parenting (it's about a children's book), but it's really asking for a book discussion/literature interpretation.

Although the questions aren't that good, they do attract a lot of attention and receive some decent answers. However, these answers also lend themselves to disagreeing with the premise.

In both these questions, the highest voted answers essentially disagree with the question itself. The answer about raising a daughter is literally a point-by-point counter of each of the elements in the question body, but it doesn't actually answer the question of what to do, and instead focuses on what not to do.

In the question about the book, the upvoted answer ends with:

The wonder of this book, though, is that it works subconsciously. You don't actually have to talk about it at all to benefit from what it has to teach.

Which is essentially saying, "Don't try to explain it, just read it.", a direct counter to the question as asked.

The majority of the traffic to these questions is likely from users that are not regular members of the Parenting.SE community. Many of the original comments on the "raising a daughter" question, and comments on the answers, are from users with little to no rep on Parenting.SE. (I have nothing against that, I just wanted to point out that I'm not making a blind assumption regarding viewership).

But what should we, as a community, do to improve these types of questions? They become so popular that they end up attracting users that sign in to do nothing more than vote, leave a comment, or write that single answer. This means that the regular community doesn't have the volume to use their voting power to shape the outcome. We're really at the mercy of guests (even if those guests are long time users of other SE sites).

Should we make heavy edits that make the questions on-topic and answerable?

  • When are edits reasonable? The "raising a daughter question" could be changed to a "How do I raise a confident, well-adjusted daughter in a sexist society?", but most of the content would be superfluous.
  • Many of the answers specifically call out the information that makes the question not on topic, so they would become obsolete.

Should we just close them?

  • There is a small number of highly active users that actually cast close/reopen votes, and we often seem to be split when it comes to "controversial" questions.
  • Should we actually increase the required reputation to earn the close and reopen privileges?

Should we leave them open and get the attention?

  • Even if it adds to the stigma that Parenting.SE doesn't strive for quality questions?
  • Even if it's attracting "attack the premise" answers

Are there other options we should pursue?


I've just avoided this question myself, aside from my VTC. My vested interest in this question is that Parenting.SE is my "home" site, and I genuinely want to see it grow and prosper. I don't believe these questions attract positive attention to our beta. Some of the reactions from the commenters even seem to indicate that the "raising a daughter" question is absurd, or that our community is absurd for allowing it.

If these questions are the first impressions of thousands of users, I don't see them attracting people who want to keep coming back.


Related:
What do we do when a popular answer doesn't seem to directly address the question?
Should questions be closed when they're wildly popular, have good answers, and more up votes than down votes?

11
  • 3
    I've found it getting easier and easier to predict what will show up in Hot Network Questions for Parenting.SE -- the same ones that are likely to attract "argue with the premise" Answers. That's a pretty unfortunate trend.
    – Acire
    Mar 19 '15 at 1:23
  • 1
    That's how I feel. We've got some really great questions that are helpful for many people but they don't get that traffic from being controversial.
    – user11394
    Mar 19 '15 at 1:25
  • Well, you believe it's a bad question, and that's why you voted to close. Fair enough, you're entitled to your opinion. But since the community voted to re-open it and keep it open, I think the idea that the community as a whole considers it a 'bad question' is pretty clearly false. Because if that were the case then the question would have remained closed. You seem to be starting your question from the proviso that your opinion is the valid one and the community's voting is all wrong, which doesn't seem convincing to me.
    – A E
    Mar 28 '15 at 20:54
  • You complain about influence from "users with little to no rep on Parenting.SE" but they don't get to VTC or vote to re-open.
    – A E
    Mar 28 '15 at 20:55
  • I think stacks are known for voting for questions that aren't good or on topic when the rules are clear, aren't enforced, or if the "community" likes a question, regardless of it's quality. I would say that since that every comment and answer seemed to pick apart the question and attack it's premise, they seemed to think it was bad, too, but apparently wanted the opportunity to give their opinion on the topic. Notice how few people even attempted to answer "How to raise..." compared to "Don't do those things you said"
    – user11394
    Mar 28 '15 at 21:00
  • I'm not talking about +/- voting, I'm talking about voting-to-close and voting-to-reopen. The community of relatively-high-rep parenting.SE regulars obviously disagrees with your assessment of the question as 'bad', otherwise the question would still be closed. (Personally I don't think that "should I do x" - where the answer is "no you shouldn't" - is necessarily a bad question at all. If the questioner already knew the answer then why would they need to ask the question?).
    – A E
    Mar 28 '15 at 21:03
  • VTC and Reopen are separate issues. My first suggestion is about editing to improve the quality. For low-volume questions it's easier to make changes: less people and answers are affected. Higher visibility questions make edits more difficult. I'm not saying it should be closed, but I think the nature of the responses illustrate clearly that the question could benefit from some intervention, aside from multiple mass deletions of comments. I came here to ask for opinions, because I'm not sold that mine is the correct one. If I didn't care, I wouldn't ask.
    – user11394
    Mar 28 '15 at 21:06
  • I don't agree that votes to close and votes to reopen are 'separate issues', irrelevant to the question of quality. If the judgement of the community were that this were a 'bad question' then it would have remained closed.
    – A E
    Mar 28 '15 at 21:11
  • That's supposing each vote is cast objectively using clear criteria to determine question quality. This goes for open and close votes, both. What is our criteria, and how are we addressing proper adherence to it? What criteria did the VTCs use that the VTCs didn't, and what did VTRs use that the VTCs didn't?
    – user11394
    Mar 28 '15 at 21:18
  • I would also note that the votes to reopen were somewhat stilted. It only shows four votes to reopen, as opposed to a normal 5 (because of moderator intervention? I honestly don't know the details there. Am I not seeing a 5th voter for some reason?) and one voter has < 1000 rep after 3 years of membership, and has primarily been inactive except for answering that question and voting to reopen it. I'm not saying their vote isn't valid, but I would hesitate to say it's representative of this community.
    – user11394
    Mar 28 '15 at 21:44
  • The problem is that this site has some of the most complicated premises I have ever seen. A parent asking for the best way to implement some draconian scenario, asking for the proper method to over-react to a mundane situation, assuming they are raising a one-in-a-billion genius that is stifled by formal schooling, instead of a kid who hasn't learned to sit still. Honestly a lot of these questions just look like trollings, designed to get attention instead of honest answers. Apr 16 '15 at 20:21
1

I think that, to some extent, this isn't a solvable problem. It is inevitable that the more controversial questions become the more well-read ones and thus end up on the hot topics list.

It's also expected that questions where the premise is, at minimum, unclear, will attract more answers and more activity (up and down voting). That's inherent in the model; a question that is very clear likely has one or a small number of good answers, while any lack of clarity will encourage different answers that interpret the question differently.

What this needs, to be answered effectively, is a way to separate 'good' opinionated questions from 'bad' opinionated questions.


At least with the Giving Tree question, the higher voted answers don't exactly disagree with the premise. The question asked:

But has anyone found a way to explain or position the relationship in a way that doesn't seem to imply:

"... and even if someone never gives back, and never seems to care for you, you should keep on doing what makes them happy, no matter how imbalanced the relationship is?"

The highest voted two answers (one of which is mine) both suggest lessons (or, not-lessons) that are different from what the OP asked, but that's largely what the question was - how do you frame it to not be a horrible lesson.

The highest voted answer does end with the sentence you point to, but that's after three paragraphs explaining the different lessons that are in the book to different people. What it's pointing out - similarly to what my answer points out, though not as succinctly - is that the different lessons come from the different point of view you have when you read the book. Even without thinking about it, you learn different things from it. The OP (one of our community managers, by the way!) appreciated the answer and considered it a good answer to his question - not in any way arguing with his premise.

The question itself was a perfectly reasonable question; a discussion of how to address a message in a book that your child will likely read at some point is quite apt for parenting, and the question was quite clear. The only issue that you could have with the question is that it had an opinion baked into it - similar to the socks question. More on that later.


As far as the more recent one, I think it's not a very good question in its own right, because mostly, it is not a question, except for a broad "Any ideas on how to raise an amazing daughter". Spending some time thinking about it, I think it probably needs to be fixed or closed; it does seem like it could be salvaged, though. It either needs to be changed to be more broad ("How can I raise my daughter to avoid the influence of sexism in the world, such as is perpetuated in media", without all of the explanations about what she is doing, except perhaps as examples [ie, not specifically making them the status quo]; or "Will this be an effective way of raising ..." with the explanations.

By including all of the explanations as "status quo", it makes it difficult to answer the question as stated, because it's already answered in the question largely: only someone who completely agreed with her premise could answer it, and that much detail makes that unlikely. It's also somewhat unfair to answerers; by putting forward a strong opinion in such a way to not allow disagreement with it, it can't really be discussed effectively.

This is different from the Giving Tree question, because to the extent the question has a strong opinion (that the lesson the OP sees is a bad one), it's basically inviting the answers to disagree with it (by asking for a better lesson to take away). It's basically the second formulation of the question I suggest above: "Is this a good way..." which is reasonable (and allows for good discussion).


To me, I think the socks question I reference above is a more interesting counterpoint to this than the Giving Tree question, because that does state an opinion (that cold feet -> health problems), and asks how to solve a different problem (how to get kids to keep on socks). It also invited argument (both recently and back then) with the premise, because most of us disagreed that cold feet lead to sickness. However, I think that question is a good one, and a good example of a different kind of 'opinion in question' questions: ones that ask for a specific actionable answer.

These are good questions because you don't have to agree with the question to answer it: the leading answerer doesn't agree, but still answers the question effectively with a good suggestion. The takeway here is that action-based questions don't need to avoid opinion in the question to be good.


Ultimately, I think these three questions run the gamut of opinion-based questions. One is a question that has opinion in it, is asking for a subjective answer, but welcomes disagreement with it; one is a question that has opinion in it, is asking for a subjective answer, and does not welcome disagreement; and the last is a question that has opinion in it, and is asking for an objective answer/actionable solution. The first and third are good questions which attracted good answers; the second isn't really answerable without disagreeing with the premise.

As such, I would leave the first and third open, and close the second. I would make edits to the second one if it could be done without entirely changing the question, but in this case I don't think that's possible.

As to whether it's a harm to leave questions open (or a good) which are not reflective of the community standards, I would tend to lean towards leaving open the borderline ones but closing the extreme ones. I also would protect 'hot questions' that are borderline for this reason, while we're considering whether to close them or not; that avoids the difficult issue of dealing with answers that don't address the premise.

On on-topic but opinion-based questions, a moderator could also leave a note on the question (perhaps removing comments, leaving the note, so it's first on the comment list) reminding users to not disagree with the premise of the question. That doesn't always work, but it can help. If a question seems to attract answers that do argue, a flag by one of the non-moderators can bring help, of course.

1
  • Hmm, @Joe - good answer, with most of which I agree, but we would (I would, at least) need to revisit the purpose of comments before putting such a restriction in place. I think it's ok to delete or move irrelevant comments to a chat room, but comments (whether meant to or not) are small answers, something allowed on every SE site in which I've participated. Not agreeing with the premise of the question is grounds to close on Biology or EL&U. Of course it's more obvious there when the premise is faulty ("Why is the word 'green' pronounced without the r sound?") Mar 20 '15 at 14:51
1

Close them ASAP. Insist on improving till they are answerable objectively (to whatever Parenting.SE's standard is). If the question attracts tons of meandering answers, it's the clear signal of a bad question.

0

You assert here that there are "bad" questions which are popular and something needs to be done about them (How should we handle "bad" questions that are clearly popular?). In your post, you further imply there is a problem with people answering a question if they disagree with the premise. This puts me in a position of wanting to answer your question here, but since I disagree with the premise... well, what do I do? (smile) Plunging ahead with a variety of thoughts:

  • Looking at questions that are popular provides information for us. It tells us something about what people value, what they are worried about, what they are interested in, etc. Instead of shutting them down (they don't happen often enough to be disruptive), we should be paying attention to them for what we might learn.
  • This is a community-driven website. It is a platform for people to communicate with each other. Restricting communication unnecessarily drives people away (and we have had other meta discussions mentioning people being driven away because their questions weren't asked "right.")(This for example.)
  • Traffic from other sites is a good thing. Even if people only pop in for one question, they now know where we are and they may come back if they need us later.
  • Parenting S/E is not like other S/E sites. You talk about the community using its voting power, and I really don't think most of the people on this site care about points or power the way they do on other S/Es. While points do suggest that an answer might be better than others, and it is gratifying when you take time to post an answer to find that someone has upvoted it because they thought it was helpful, parents here are generally not competing as much as they are just sharing. Also, you use the word "community" as if this is a closed group. Everyone who visits, even once, is part of this community.
  • Judging questions as "bad" seems like dangerous territory to me. Some questions could be made better, true enough. Any one of us can edit and improve questions, or add comments for clarifying questions. If what underlies a question is the concern of a parent, then we should honor that concern by helping them get a helpful answer.
  • I think you are putting way too much stock in getting a best or accepted answer. Because of the nature of parenting, the questions are largely subjective, seeking advice with perhaps some research or direct experience to back it up. When people come to read a question here, they are unlikely to just read the top answer - these are parents who are trying to find the best answer for their situation - they will likely read all of the answers or at least multiple ones near the top.
  • Sometimes answers that disagree with the premise are valuable answers. In the question about raising a daughter in a sexist world, the OP had offered what many would suggest is an extreme position. Answers respectfully suggested alternative approaches. If I were a parent of a girl arriving at this page, I would have found some helpful information in the many thoughtful answers.
  • This is a library we are creating. The answerers seek not just to provide an answer to the OP but also to future readers. Their answers may not be accepted by the OP in the end, but they will be upvoted by others who found them helpful.

So what to do about questions that you think could be better worded?

  • Heavy edits? If you think something needs heavy edits, a close vote is probably more appropriate.

  • Close them? If you think it is seriously off-topic or unanswerable, you should vote for this, but be prepared to be out-voted by others. And no, we should not raise the reputation limit for this privilege. This is a community. Too much power in the hands of too few is not a good thing.

  • Leave them open? Most of the time, yes. Both questions you cite had very reasonable and interesting responses.

Concluding thoughts We are creating a library here. Public libraries are very careful when they make judgments about what belongs in the collection and what does not. If there is popular demand, it belongs. If it is patently wrong (Sun revolves around the Earth) or clearly off-topic (automotive question on a parenting forum), it is removed. Beyond that, we should try to make as many viewpoints available to the community as we can.


For the record, I was the top answerer of The Giving Tree question, and I reject your paraphrasing of my final sentence. The OP was asking to have the book explained to him, and I offered three different interpretations which answered his question. My final sentence was stating that understanding how the book might operate for others did not mean you had to explain it to them when you read it together, since the OP was concerned about reading this book to his child and since my explanation might have led him to believe this was necessary. It was not a summary of my thoughts as you imply, and it did not negate the premise of the question.

3
  • Some of these points have been addressed in more recent metas and I have a different opinion on good and bad questions now than I did in my OP. I'm leaving this question open as is, but I'm honestly not concerned about it anymore. The answer, for me, was more a change of outlook than anything else.
    – user11394
    May 17 '15 at 20:20
  • Perhaps you could edit your question to add this comment, because I just spent a lot of time answering something you no longer care about. Because someone else posted a few days ago, this question rose to the top of the list of active questions and I mistakenly took it for an active question. Someone else may do the same.
    – MJ6
    May 17 '15 at 20:26
  • 1
    I think the feedback you provided is valuable, even if my own views have since changed. It's because of answers like these and community feedback that I've had the change. I'll make an edit when I have a chance.
    – user11394
    May 17 '15 at 20:30

You must log in to answer this question.